2019 DuckNews Preview – Running Back

In the second installment of the 2019 Oregon football preview here at DuckNews.com, we focus on the guys Justin Herbert will be giving the ball to in order to balance things out. In fact, it’ll be more than balancing the offense out. The running game, more like a power running game, will be a featured aspect of the offense as Cristobal wants to emulate the SEC more and more.

And given the wariness of the wide receiving corps, at least early on, the running game will oh so important.

The majority of the carries should fall on sophomore CJ Verdell. The 5-9, 212-pounder had an outstanding first season last year as a redshirt freshman. He led Oregon with 1,018 rushing yards with 10 touchdowns. Verdell also managed to add 315 receiving yards and two touchdowns through the air.

Verdell seems to come up big in the big games. Nine of his 10 touchdowns on the ground occurred during Pac-12 contests. Oregon has an elite offensive line and plenty of big games on the schedule, which falls right into Verdell’s wheelhouse. The Chula Vista, Calif. native is primed to have a monster season.

But Oregon hasn’t had just one feature back in its arsenal in quite some time. It’s usually been a Batman and Robin thing with the Duck running backs. The Robin to Verdell’s Batman should be fellow sophomore Travis Dye.

The Ducks’ complete transformation to a power running game isn’t near completion and this is where Dye comes in. At 5-10 and 192 pounds, Troy’s younger brother is more of a speed back to counter Verdell’s power game.

Dye had a solid season as a true freshman in 2018 and there’s no reason for his progress not to continue. He played in all 13 games last season and broke out in a big way in the Civil War where Dye torched the Beavers with 199 yards on 33 carries. Those 199 yards broke the program’s single-game rushing record for a freshman.

Overall, Dye gained 739 yards and scored four times. Again, those numbers should go up to give Oregon one of the best 1-2 combos in the nation.

The college football season is longer than most fans think and it’s a battle of attrition at times. Players get banged up and/or injured. Depth is paramount in Division I football and Cristobal and his staff did their due diligence in recruiting to have as much depth in the running back position as possible.

That hard work on the road was able to bring in No. 2 all-purpose running back in the nation. Sean Dollars made huge news when he chose the Ducks over the likes of most SEC schools and every Pac-12 school. The graduate from Mater Dei rushed for over 2,400 yards in his final two prep seasons and he averaged over seven yards a carry and scored 10 times. Dollars also caught 33 passes for 480 yards.

The 5-10, 204-pounder is expected to fit into the offense seamlessly and could play an even bigger role on special teams as perhaps a returner of some sort. Should an injury occur, expect Dollars to step right in.

Also on the roster is touchdown specialist Cyrus Hibibi-Likio. Another sophomore, the 6-1, 222-pounder came in the game as a short yardage situational back. He received just 18 carries, but found the end zone seven times. His role is expected to remain the same this season.

Darrian Felix gained nearly 200 yards as a very part-time back as a true freshman in 2017. He was expected to play a bigger role last season, but had to redshirt after suffering an injury after two games.

Also on the roster, but expected to redshirt is 6-2, 215-pounder Jayvaun Wilson. The Valencia, Calif. native was a four-star recruit after a shortened senior season. As a junior, Wilson gained nearly 10 yards per carry and scored 19 touchdowns.

     ~ Don Smalley